A Captive Audience

Industry heroes
March 28, 2011, 7:16 am
Filed under: Thoughts | Tags: , ,

A couple of recent talks, one at RMIT and another as part of LMFF have got me thinking about the adoption of more sustainable practices by fashion businesses.  The commonly accepted viewpoint in Australia (as I am hearing it) is that we lag behind Europe in terms of motivation, legislation and actual action.  Likely, our size and sprawl contributes to this – tackling landfill issues for example seems of little importance when we have so much space and so many disused mine sites to fill with our garbage.  In other countries, this space simply doesn’t exist.

At the LMFF panel discussion last Tuesday, Is Fashion Sustainable? I heard panelists and audience alike grapple with the question of how to turn this attitude around.  Whilst there are many creative and thoughtful approaches being employed by smaller scale practitioners, the questions I am hearing asked are who are the heroes among the established industry who will stand up and lead others in this area, and how can those companies best be encouraged and supported?  The presentation at RMIT last Thursday by Anne Chandler, Environmental Manager at IKEA made me realise that companies committed to environmental initiatives do so as part of a more general approach to business based on conscience, leadership and innovation.

Companies committed to environmental initiatives do so because:

1. It’s the right thing to do.

2. They consider themselves leaders in their field and are therefore aware generally of the impact their company has.

3. They have a holistic approach to business that allows them tho see where benefits are/will be – eg, profits, increased quality, reduced costs.

On the other hand, in my experience, businesses not doing anything:

1. Have a lack of any ethical standards in regards to anything.  This means there is no fundamental motivation to change.  Perhaps the only way to target these companies is through protest/direct action strategies such as those directed at Primark in the UK and hope for consumer boycots and general disruption to their business.

2. Follow fashion trends but without a perception of themselves as leaders in their market.  This lack of vision and creativity will probably be also apparent in the design process, where very unimaginative copying of samples bought from other companies is probably rife.

3. Have a scattergun and fragmented business approach, characterised by poor communication both internally and with stakeholders.

Thinking about the more general approach to business of different types of companies made me conclude that it is probably most prudent to focus efforts in the area of assisting and bringing together fashion businesses (no easy task in itself, as I understand) that are leaders in a general sense, in the hope that they will reap the benefits, while companies with no interest whatsoever in change will dye out in a Darwinian survival of the fittest strategy.  A friend working for a prominent NGO told me how they only work in countries that are politically stable, otherwise their good work in development risks being for nothing if war tears everything apart.  Fashion companies are similar in this sense.  They change ownership and go broke at alarming rates, and it makes sense to build up and support those who are already stable.